Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Transportation Bill Update

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy recently sent out an update on the discussions underway in Congress on the Transportation Bill which runs out June 30:
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Representative John Mica (R-Fla.) have been negotiating over the past week. Transportation Enhancements (TE) has been a top point of contention, with the House demanding that states be able to shift the money to roads and bridges instead of dedicating it to trails, bicycling, walking and other TE eligibilities. From our perspective, this is the central debate point in the conference. The relative silence regarding Safe Routes to School and the Recreational Trails Program also concerns us. Our assumption, based on previous House positioning, is that the former is endangered and the latter is safe.

Persistent rumors in Washington and Rep. Mica’s district office staff both indicate that the House has prevailed, to our detriment, on the issue of dedicating TE funds despite the fact that the House was not able to pass their bill that reflected this view (H.R. 7). Unsubstantiated intelligence suggests that the mechanisms to achieve this undermining of the integrity of TE may be to make it very easy for state DOTs to opt out of the program completely, transfer more money away from TE, and include expensive new eligibilities that are out of step with its purpose. Some of these same tactics were used in the Senate committee bill to maim TE, but the current negotiations may go even further.

Current talk of “roadside enhancements” also raises suspicions that current TE eligibilities that occur outside of the right-of-way of highways would not be eligible. H.R. 7 took this approach, eliminating rail-trails, railroad depots, historic preservation and other important TE categories.
Cyclists will likely be asked to contact their Congressional representatives to oppose cuts to the Transportation Enhancements program. Stay tuned.

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